Aunty was crying profusely as she entered the main door. We hurriedly finished our breakfast to give her an audience. She had been asked by her elder son to leave his house. The never ending trials and tribulations of the sixty something widow, who also was a breast cancer patient, filled us with an acute sense of helplessness. There was a time when she was the proud mother of five sons and a daughter with a doting husband but the untimely death of the lone bread winner led to catastrophic times and the situation had now gone from bad to worse.
A one bedroom hall kitchen apartment in far flung Mira Road, a suburb of Mumbai was the subject of intense contention. As per the law Aunty owned fifty percent of the flat and the remaining fifty percent has to be equally divided amongst the six children. She was eligible for an equal portion from the balance fifty percent. The five sons and even the daughter wanted her to part with her complete share in one form or the other if they expected them to take care of her in old age. She wasn’t getting any monetary help from any of the children. To add insult to the injury of a Cancer patient with no education to her credit, the wretched daughter in laws tormented and tortured her both verbally as well as physically. A fake police complaint was lodged against her by one of them for alleged physical assault.
“I can’t stay there,” Aunty told my wife Sadiya. She was crying inconsolably as Aashi my daughter offered her water and something to eat. There was a time when Aunty enjoyed the perks of life courtesy her loving husband who had a reasonably flourishing business in Mahim. She wore good clothes, she travelled in comfort, and mutton was regularly cooked in her house. In a middle class Muslim household mutton is considered a sign of affluence. She was an extremely honest woman whom we entrusted with our house keys whenever we travelled out of city. When Aashi was born, Aunty had taken care of her for two years when Sadiya rejoined her job six months post delivery. That’s when we came in close contact with Aunty. Her husband had died by then and she was in need of money. The sons were not the devils they later became and the daughter was loving young girl, still unmarried then.
Life of a widow isn’t easy especially when you’re uneducated and are dependent on others. Islam gives a high status to women in the scheme of things but the clergy and the orthodox mind sets relegate people to become inferior beings.
Aunty had always been afflicted by the norms set by society around her. She gave us Rs. 10000/- so that we could give it to her in front of the sons. She feared that the sons wouldn’t approve spending money on her Cancer operation. One of her sons was a drunkard who was beaten up by his in-laws. She helped him get married again. The new daughter in law caused problems at home; the son hit his old mother in a drunk state. Wife of another son passed away after an operation. She helped him too to get married again. The son started a new life but didn’t look back to see the wounds and the poor state of his mother. The youngest son was afflicted with polio. Aunty had taken special care of him due to his disability. He was a smart boy who had a good knowledge of computers. He befriended a rich girl in Mauritius through yahoo chat, went away from home without informing anyone, married the girl and never looked back.
“They are all the same. No one needs me. If you guys can’t do anything else then at least leave me alone. I’ll put the house up for rent and feed myself with that money,” Aunty blurted out to Sadiya amidst loud bursts of sobs. She always said the same thing.
Lack of money and intellectual sensibility was the root cause of many miseries. Aunty spent a fortune on the wedding of her only daughter. We kept on telling her that she shouldn’t give any dowry as it will only make the bridegroom hopeful for future bounties. Due to societal pressure she went overboard in placating the future in-laws of her daughter. The sons were upset at this gross extravagance and that’s when the downfall of this family started in the real sense. The bridegroom kept on expecting some sort of favours or the other; the daughter gained considerable weight and also put on an insensitive thick skin.
“I will stay here, I don’t have anyone other than you guys,” Aunty cried as Sadiya consoled her.
One of the reasons we never moved out of Mira Road was because we knew it for sure that Aunty would lose all hope in life if our house wasn’t there for her to come and vent out those frustrations. We were her last refuge. She had turned into a weather beaten woman who had lost everything in life but was stoic enough to wage a battle against her own children wowing not to hand over her share to any of the ungrateful shareholders of her milk.
“Amma, take a bite,” Aashi said as she handed over some sweets to Aunty post dinner. There was a broad smile on Aunty’s fair face as it glowed with happiness. Aashi had offered to share her room with the woman who had nurtured her early childhood. I could see a tinge of relief on Aunty’s face as I closed lights of the room.
Life doesn’t offer happy endings. Only new beginnings.